“The Good and the Bad”. In this series of articles we will look at some of the biggest franchises in gaming history and talk about the good and the bad games within those titles.
First up is a series that has brought me great joy over the years, but equally gut wrenching disappointment. It is, of course, Resident Evil. To me it is one of the greatest gaming franchises of all time. The first five releases of the series are some of the most difficult, yet enjoyable story driven epics you could ever play. In this very first article I think it’s only best we start with the original game (including the two released remasters) that started it all.
So first, let’s look back at the plot, its characters, and settings. We are going back to 1998, in the outskirts of Raccoon City in the Arklay Mountains, S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactics and Rescue Service) Alpha team is deployed to find out what had happened to the S.T.A.R.S. Bravo team. Well, the short version is that zombies happened. Human zombies, dog zombies, crow zombies. If that wasn’t enough, then throw in a mutated giant snake and some quite large spiders, and a shark that makes Jaws look like a puppy. That is the shortened version of what had happened to Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, and Barry Burton’s comrades. That is the shorthand version, and for some games (and films) that is all you need for a zombie story. No real plot, just zombies and weapons to kill them. Not Resident Evil though. Not only does it go on to explain why there are zombies roaming around this mansion, it also tells you how they were created and by whom. What you don’t learn through the dialogue or cutscenes you can read for yourself in the countless number of documents lurking around waiting for you to find. This is where Capcom went really above and beyond with the lore of the game. Much like the celebrated Dark Souls series, Resident Evil is full of pieces for you to discover for yourself to put together certain aspects of the plot. It’s a nice extra for anyone who is desperate to find out every single last bit of detail about the Umbrella Corporation and its monstrous T Virus.
Resident Evil also gave us one of the most loved villains in video game history, Albert Wesker. Generally, Wesker is not really on-screen much at all during the original game, at first to us he is the leader of S.T.A.R.S. and caught up in the nightmare just like the rest of the squad. The first time we see Wesker, he just oozes serenity. With his slicked back blonde hair and sunglasses, we all know what a cool guy he is. After the initial gameplay cutscene we only see him a couple more times before the final reveal of his true identity and intentions. As we play through Res Evil, we start to get the feeling that not everything is right here (I mean apart from the dead coming back to life), and our suspicions turn out to be justified when Enrico Marini (S.T.A.R.S. vice captain and leader of Bravo team) tells us that there is a traitor amongst us, but of course, before he can divulge that useful bit of intel, he gets shot. Now, the game does a good job at leading your suspicions towards poor old Barry, who is acting rather shifty all throughout this situation. However, we learn that Barry is merely just the pawn for the real traitor, that cool suave leader of ours, Albert Wesker! It didn’t end too well for him though as his plan to kill us with Umbrella’s ultimate bio weapon, the Tyrant, backfired on him when the monster skewered him first. We also learn that poor Barry was just doing Wesker’s bidding as he had threatened Barry’s family, but he came up trumps in the end as he came to save the day (sort of).
Resident Evil‘s two playable characters, Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield, are really (at this point in the series anyway) just your standard hero characters. You don’t learn much about them in terms of their history, but you cannot help but become attached to them throughout the game because of what you have to go through playing as them. Which brings us along nicely to the main setting of this eventful night, the Spencer Mansion.
When you first enter the mansion, you have no idea what it actually is and what lies beneath. The mansion and its surrounding areas is one of the greatest settings, not only of the series itself but in any video game. Some of the visuals in the mansion are simply breathtaking (more so in the remasters). Statues create eerie shadows, and the camera angles create some iconic moments when entering certain areas. It contains a huge variety of areas to fight and explore in, long claustrophobic corridors, wide open rooms, dark woods, and some of the greatest puzzles ever. It has it all, and this will also bring us nicely to the next part of this article… the gameplay.
The Spencer Mansion begins to show us that it is no normal mansion (again, apart from the undead). We start to find that exploring this place will not be that easy, and as we frantically try to search for a way out, we find that many of the doors are locked. Nothing out of the ordinary I know, but many are locked and we have to find one of four keys (helmet, shield, armour, and sword) to unlock them. Again, not that strange, but how we obtain them is another matter. After collecting various trinkets around the mansion, you need to take them to a certain place or do something specific with them to get these keys. Solving these puzzles brings a great sense of accomplishment as some of them can be pretty tough. Another great aspect of the puzzles are the exploration and backtracking you have to do (again, much like Dark Souls). In a great bit of realism though, Capcom will not let you carry everything you find. You only have a limited number of slots in your inventory, and we are not talking Skyrim limited numbers here, we are talking 8 spaces. Five or six of these spaces will generally be occupied by your weapons, ammunition, and health boosts, so that will only leave two spaces left. This is a great mechanic which makes you really think about what you carry around with you. Resident Evil forces you to backtrack, back and forth between item box and puzzle location, which really is no chore at all. Also, if you play the remastered versions of this game, backtracking has the added danger of running into a Crimson Head zombie! (a zombie that has come back to life, you will either need to get a headshot on them when shooting or burn their body once they fall). These new enemies brought a new challenge to the game, as if you’re anything like me you forget where a lot of the bodies are, and then while backtracking you run into one and throw your controller up in the air, landing back on your head (yes, I have done that!).
The gunplay in Resident Evil, I think anyway, has really held up over the years. Yes, Resident Evil 4 revolutionised it with the over-the-shoulder action style shooting, but that isn’t what the first four games are. They are survival horror and the gunplay adds to the tension. Zombies are generally easy. Either stand a few feet away and just pop them off with your pistol, or wait until they get dangerously close, aim up, and take a headshot. This second method became a lot more important with the inclusion of the Crimson Heads. Dogs are another matter and were absolutely terrifying to fight.
With its brilliant story driven plot, terrifying setting, and heart racing gameplay, Resident Evil is, to me, still king of the survival horror games. The remastered version (especially the newly released HD versions) is one of my top 3 games of all time. Next week, still on the positive side of the series, Resident Evil 2.